Updated Dec 29, 2022 - News

With 82 cases, Central Ohio measles outbreak leads U.S.

Illustration of a syringe and glass medicine bottle with a post-it note attached that says "to do"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The country's largest measles outbreak is happening in Central Ohio — with no signs of slowing down.

Why it matters: Until this outbreak, our area hadn't confirmed a measles case in 20 years.

  • The highly contagious respiratory disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but dipping vaccine rates during the pandemic have revived it among unvaccinated pockets.

Threat level: The CDC and WHO said last month that measles is "an imminent threat in every region of the world," Axios' Jacob Knuston reports.

  • Symptoms include a high fever, cough, runny nose and watery eyes, with a signature rash appearing three to five days later.
  • Serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis are possible.

By the numbers: Of the 82 local cases confirmed as of Thursday, none were fully vaccinated and 39% were hospitalized.

  • All are kids younger than 18.
  • 28% are under 1 year old, meaning they're too young to be vaccinated and were relying on herd immunity for protection.

State of play: Measles likely arrived in Columbus after four unvaccinated travelers separately went to measles-endemic countries from June to October, Columbus Public Health commissioner Mysheika Roberts tells Axios.

  • The CDC was here for the two weeks after Thanksgiving and is offering support.

Of note: The two-dose measles vaccine is 97% effective.

  • The challenge is reaching the small number of Central Ohioans spreading the virus by not vaccinating their children.

What they're saying: "It's very frustrating, knowing that it's preventable with a vaccine — a safe, effective, accessible vaccine," Roberts says.

  • The health department is ready to administer shots, but only half a dozen parents have brought kids in since the outbreak started this fall.

What we're watching: Measles is easily spread in public places and symptoms can develop up to 21 days after exposure.

  • An outbreak isn't declared over until 42 days after the last infected person develops a rash — meaning it could be months before this is considered under control locally.

This story has been updated to reflect the most recent case numbers.


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